WASHINGTON-The thought of testifying before Congress would make most anyone a bit nervous. In prepping its witnesses, CUNA is able to avoid letting the jitters get in the way of compelling testimony. CUNA has provided many witnesses already this congressional session including Chartway Federal Credit Union Director of Operations Celia Woodham on check truncation before the Senate Banking Committee; Self-Help Credit Union Vice President for Latino/Hispanic Affairs John Herrera, also chairman of Latino Community Credit Union before an informal hearing of the Hispanic Congressional Caucus on use of the matricula identification; Palmetto Trust Federal Credit Union CEO Lucile Beckwith regarding bankruptcy reform; and National Institutes of Health Federal Credit Union CEO Lindsay Alexander on check truncation in a House subcommittee. "The first few minutes were very nerve wracking," Beckwith admitted. After a while she settled in, she explained, and said, "I knew I knew my stuff." She said that the preparation she had gone through with CUNA staff was very important to her successful hearing, particularly when she was being bombarded by Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.). Beckwith said that CUNA staff had mainly written her testimony with her input helping to personalize the issue. She said of CUNA's legislative staff, "They were wonderful. They really were supportive, answered all my questions. They were very much there for me." She added that it also helped that she read, and re-read, her testimony several times with her daughter, Melynda Ciochetti, CEO of Santee Cooper Employees Credit Union in Moncks Corner, S.C. At the bankruptcy reform Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee hearing, Nadler had attacked Beckwith on credit unions' support of voluntary reaffirmations, though his questions did not use the term `voluntary,' which gave Beckwith trouble with providing the quick answer the lawmaker was looking for. She responded that she would get back to him in writing. She added that Subcommittee Chairman Chris Cannon (R-Utah) and Ranking Member Mel Watt (D-N.C.) apologized to her after the hearing for Nadler's behavior. Alexander had a little less stressful experience before the House Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit Subcommittee. She said that the question and answer mock up she went through with CUNA staff "helped me realize I needed to do my homework on some issues." Alexander also said it was intimidating sitting at the table with all the committee members looking down at you, because they sit in a raised area. Like Beckwith, Alexander went over the testimony again and again, even on the subway ride down to the Hill. CUNA has certain characteristics they look for in a witness to represent the credit union community. According to CUNA Vice President of Legislative Affairs and Senior Legislative Counsel Gary Kohn, the trade group's number one philosophy is to pick a non-CUNA staffer. It is better to choose someone from within the credit union community who has intimate experience with how a current law or a change in the law will affect credit unions and their members. Kohn related that at a previous job with a mutual fund trade association, they always had the CEO testify, which does not make for a very sympathetic figure. Leaders within the credit union community also have anecdotes and can put a human face on an issue. "Members of Congress, if you really want to leave an impression on them, you have to demonstrate how it's going to affect their constituents and the best way to do that is to bring a constituent in to actually do that," Kohn said. CUNA Senior Vice President for Government Affairs John McKechnie agreed, "I think the most compelling witnesses are the ones who can not only know something specific about the details of an issue in front of you, but sometimes they can also be compelling in that they can talk about what the issue means to the members of credit unions. As Gary said, members of Congress look at this as is this or is this not important to my constituents." It also helps to have a congressional leader's constituent testifying, representing other constituents. For example, Alexander's credit union is located in Rockville, Md., an area served by Senate Banking Committee Ranking Member Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.). It goes without saying that they want someone articulate and knowledgeable on the subject, Kohn and McKechnie said. McKechnie did not recall a witness for CUNA freezing on the stand during his nearly two decades with the organization. In addition, witnesses are permitted to have one person sit behind them to hand them notes or whisper to them to answer tough questions. Kohn said that he emphasizes with CUNA's witnesses that they should not feel compelled to answer a question right then and there. It is definitely not a time for someone to "wing it," McKechnie said, adding that it is "always legitimate" to provide a written answer at a later time. Hearings are generally mutually beneficial for lawmakers and those providing testimony. "It just depends; it goes from issue to issue, hearing to hearing. For example.how many times have we testified on bankruptcy?" Kohn quipped. "But, it's very important for the organizers of the hearing to have a credit union witness there because they recognize that credit unions kind of take the attention away from the assumption or accusation by some of the opponents of bankruptcy that this is just big banks and credit card companies. So it important for them to have credit unions out front and say `no, this affects common people, too.' " " Hearings generally add some human element to an issue and add some real world, outside the Beltway experience to the congressional understanding." McKechnie explained. "Some hearings are tremendously valuable in terms of getting an issue more prominent play. Others are very pro forma and just sort of checking the box and moving forward." Also, Kohn said hearings are helpful because the members of Congress do not focus on an issue until they actually have to. A hearing can help make them focus on the issue. While CUNA's invitations to testify are often the result of the group's proactive maneuvering, sometimes they are called out of the blue to testify. Kohn pointed out, "Check truncation, for example, we were asked to testify both times because each side recognized that this is a new process for the banking industry, but it was one that has been in place, at least in part, for credit unions for many, many years." In that instance, credit unions had a certain amount of expertise to offer to the hearing, whereas with bankruptcy reform, credit unions offered an `everyman' front to the controversial measure. One example of how not to testify came from the bankers during regulatory relief testimony last year, the lobbyists said. The credit union representative's testimony was pro-credit union provisions, while the bankers' testimonies were all anti-credit union instead of in favor of the bank provisions in the bill. [email protected]

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